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In the past month, Bellevue City Council member Conrad Lee sent nearly two dozen emails to city employees, at their official Bellevue addresses, asking them to contribute money, attend fundraisers, and endorse the 15-year council incumbent. Lee sent the emails from his personal and campaign accounts. Public Disclosure Commission spokeswoman Lori Anderson says state law stipulates that "someone who is in office can't go to people in that agency and ask them for contributions. So a mayor or city council member can't go to city employees and ask them to contribute to their campaign."
The only exception is when the names are part of a list purchased by the campaign. Lee said he didn't know where the names came from—"My campaign is very complex," he said—and referred me to Jesse Moon, his campaign manager.
In an email, Moon said,
In this day of electronic communication this is an unfortunate occurrence and has been diligently corrected in two ways: First, whenever e-mails are bounced back requesting removal from our system, we have eliminated them immediately. Secondly, we have made a conscious effort to periodically review and remove all government addresses as it was never our intent to directly e-mail city employees.
Lee, as PubliCola reported last month, is part of a slate of candidates who oppose light rail through downtown Bellevue, insisting that it run either in a tunnel (which would be prohibitively expensive) or on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe right-of-way (which would take rail away from residents and businesses). Eastside developer Kemper Freeman, a longtime light-rail opponent, has given Lee $1,000 through his company, Kemper Holdings.
Few of the city employees Lee solicited for support or money, however, have given to campaigns in the past (political involvement, like donating to campaigns, is one of the main ways a person's name ends up on political lists). In fact, only one—transportation department advisor Kim Becklund, who gave to King County Executive candidate Dow Constantine, the 34th District Democrats, Port Commission candidate Max Vekich, and Port Commissioner John Creighton—appears to have contributed to any candidate this year at all. ("Appear to" because the Public Disclosure Commission's web site crashed before I could check the last few names).
The emails ask for money and support. One, for example, encourages the reader to "donate often" (Bellevue has no limits on political contributions) and concludes, "Thank you for your continued support." Another asks that the recipient donate as much as they can and pass the request on to others. Still another asks "friends and supporters" to attend a candidate forum in Bellevue and "let your voice be heard."
The PDC's Anderson says that if Lee did target the requests at city employees, he "probably didn't use the best judgment." And he put the employees in a potentially awkward position, because they are prohibited by law from responding to such emails from their city accounts.
Bellevue public records manager Kyle Stannert says city staff have "previously been in contact with PDC staff about communication to staff on work accounts," but says "The PDC did not find [the emails] to be in violation of campaign laws.
Anderson could not recall coming across the Lee case before.